Interview on 2GB with Chris Kenny 
ALP National Conference; Politicising Christmas; Brexit



Chris Kenny: …we just spoke to Albo who is in Adelaide city for the ALP national conference, of course you’re in Adelaide as well. What’s your take on Labor getting together there over the weekend with one foot in the halls of power, really one butt cheek on the Treasury benches they’re about to form government aren’t they? 

Simon Birmingham: Well I hope not Chris, and I hope that this weekend is a moment where the nation’s media, the voters, will take stock and just think a little harder, a little deeper about what a change of government could mean for retirees across the country, they’ll be paying higher taxes. For those who want to invest in property or rent property across the country, they’ll be paying more tax on their investment property, higher rent on their rental property. For those who are hard-working wage earners across the country, they face the threat of higher income taxes. 

In the end there’s a whole lot of issues that people should look at when it comes to a change of government around the Labor Party and those issues point to people paying much much higher tax. Two hundred billion dollars plus of extra taxes just to fund more reckless Labor Party spending. They’re the choices that people really need to dwell on over the next six months ahead of the next election.

Chris Kenny: Yes well the way of the media is in the political cycle, there’s going to be a big focus at the ALP conference on what’s new and what’s contested. But in many respects as you say, what you want to argue about, what people should be worried about when it comes to Labor is what we already knew, that is the tax increases they’ve outlined, the spending increases they’ve outlined, and as I mentioned to Anthony Albanese, their policies when it comes to energy – to increase the renewable energy target to 50 per cent now. You’ve seen that in South Australia, what would that do to us nationally? 

Simon Birmingham: Well we saw on the front page of The Adelaide Advertiser today confirmation yet again South Australia has the highest electricity prices in the nation. And that’s because of course of the failed experiments around the way energy markets work and the real risk for Australians is that the Labor Party, between now and the next election, avoids talking about the policies they’ve put out there.

They don’t want to explain to Australians the consequences of higher tax. They don’t want to explain the consequences of doubling the emissions reduction target that they’ve currently committed to the nation, because they know that if Australians understand those consequences they’d run a mile from it. And of course you’d run a mile from it – seeing higher taxes, higher electricity bills, all of which will mean that the current wave of great growth we’re enjoying… I mean last year we saw the fastest rate of growth in youth jobs ever in the nation’s recorded history. Now, who would want to toss that away? If you’re a parent or grandparent out there right now, surely you care about whether jobs are being generated for your children or your grandchildren. All that would be at risk if we get to an environment with higher taxes on investment, on wages, on electricity, on all of those factors which would just really threaten the capacity of Australians to be able to generate those jobs and get ahead of the nation.

Chris Kenny: While we’re on renewable energy and the energy policy generally. What do you think of these political and religious groups who have taken our Christmas carols and injected them with new lyrics that are saying things like ‘cool down the world, the time has come’, ‘Silent night smoky night’, ‘Coal fired power, Coal fired night’, and calling people who disagree with them on climate change ‘policy extremists’, and what are some of the other lyrics here? ‘We wish you a coal free future, we wish you a coal free future’. I mean do you think this is just a bit of fun, or do you think they should leave their politics out of Christmas carols?

Simon Birmingham: I was listening to your intro with interest there Chris and I’m all for free speech and people are welcome to go out there and say as they wish, do as they wish in terms of these things. But as a dad of a 6 year old and a 7 year old, and not a particularly religious one by any means, but if I turned up taking my kids to Christmas carols I want it to be about the spirit of Christmas. I would be pretty offended and pretty annoyed if I turned up to find the Christmas message was being bastardised with a whole bunch of political messages rather than being about purity, peace and love, forgiveness, happiness, all those things that we ought to be celebrating at Christmas.

Chris Kenny: Absolutely I’m not normally an activist but I might be an activist here, let’s get the politics out of Christmas. Christmas is about Christmas not about politics. Jeepers if we get politics into Christmas that’ll be the last bastion when it does have one place we thought we’d get away from it.

Simon Birmingham: So as a politician, it is usually the one time with me you know you can usually take a little bit of a break because you know that frankly, punters don’t want to hear from you, don’t want to hear about politics. They want to spend it with their families and in enjoying their family time, free of all those political messages.

Chris Kenny: Not this Christmas Senator Simon Birmingham, because you’re gonna be singing, on the first day of Christmas my government gave to me, a rail track and coal mine blah blah blah blah blah. Honestly, it’s just terrible. It’s so bad it’s got me singing. Now I wanted to get to something in your portfolio area of course as Trade Minister, you’re taking a special interest in what’s happening in the UK and Brexit. Now Australia’s trying to get a free trade deal with the EU. Good luck with that mess because that’ll take forever. But of course if there is a decent, clean, straightforward Brexit, you want to get in and do a very quick and very extensive free trade deal with the UK. How’s all that looking? What do you think is going to transpire? 

Simon Birmingham: Well Chris, there are both short and long term factors for us to worry about here. In the short term, if we were to see in the UK an abrupt Brexit, a Brexit with no deal play out, then we will have to be infinitely nimble because a range of our market access propositions in terms of how we sell our goods, farm goods, our produce as well as many services into the UK and in the EU would be potentially threatened or undermined by an abrupt Brexit, where the existing status quo would essentially come to an end, and there would be a lot of uncertainty. 

So in the end, a benefit that Australia could see is if we get the UK moved to a point where they legislate the type of deal that’s on the table. There is some uncertainty associated with that as well, particularly in terms of what happens beyond 2020 as to whether or not the UK is in a position to completely and fully negotiate a free trade agreement. Now the government of Prime Minister May says that they would be looking to be in a position where they exit the EU Customs Union, and that would mean we could fully negotiate a free trade agreement and we are certainly working hard behind the scenes through a trade working group between Australia and the UK, to be in a position where when they enter into a legal position after March 29 next year, where they could negotiate an FTA, we want to be able to get on and do that. 

But at the same time we keep working on an FTA with the EU. Yes there are difficulties, but the EU’s shown greater capacity in recent times to negotiate such free trade agreements than perhaps they have historically. So we have to take very much of a belt and braces approach, deal with the uncertainties that are there, if we can, we are in a position to get free trade agreements with both the EU and the UK. If the UK finds itself in a position where it is indefinitely in the EU in terms of the customs agreement and the like, then of course we’d look to make sure that any EU free trade agreement allowed us to be able to continue to trade with the UK successfully.

Chris Kenny: And the bottom line is, there’s no point in guessing what’s going to unfold because even Theresa May doesn’t know.

Simon Birmingham: Look, the political environment is uncertain in many nations, it’s safe to say, and that is obvious.

Chris Kenny: Indeed, and the UK is making Australia look stable just at the moment.

Simon Birmingham: I’ll be diplomatic about that but I know, as our Trade Minister, want to make sure that at the end of the day our farmers and our businesses are able to sell as many goods and services around the world freely, effectively, and with the least tariffs or other imposition on them, on the cost. You know many of your listeners would probably think back to the days of Paul Keating’s banana republic and believe that as a nation we were still in trade deficit and the like. But more often than not in recent times, Australia records a monthly trade surplus, a big part of that is because in the last five and a half years we’ve done trade deals with China, Korea, Japan more recently, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In the Howard years, the US trade agreement and all of that means we are now able to get our produce, our farmers’ goods, our services, a whole range of goods out of Australia, into those markets.

Chris Kenny: Yeah it’s been a big agenda, it’s not talked about often enough. Thanks so much for joining us Simon Birmingham appreciate it. Thank you. It’s my pleasure. Senator Simon Birmingham.

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Authorised by Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, South Australia.